Drake's Venture
Drake's Venture is a 1980 film depiction of Francis Drake
Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral was an English sea captain, privateer, navigator, slaver, and politician of the Elizabethan era. Elizabeth I of England awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581. He was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. He also carried out the...

's voyage of circumnavigation. Produced by Westward Television
Westward Television
Westward Television was the first ITV franchise holder for the South West of England from 29 April 1961 until 31 December 1981. After a difficult start, Westward provided a popular, distinctive and highly regarded service to its region, until public boardroom squabbles led to its franchise not...

 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the event, it nevertheless focuses on the voyage's most controversial aspect, the execution of the gentleman Thomas Doughty
Thomas Doughty
Thomas Doughty may refer to:*Thomas Doughty , English explorer, d.1578*Thomas Doughty , American artist...

 for mutiny. The film has only been aired twice: once in the UK on December 28th of 1980, and once in the US, on Masterpiece Theatre
Masterpiece Theatre
Masterpiece is a drama anthology television series produced by WGBH Boston. It premiered on Public Broadcasting Service on January 10, 1971, making it America's longest-running weekly prime time drama series. The series has presented numerous acclaimed British productions...

, March 27, 1983.


The film opens with Drake's return from his voyage of circumnavigation. He is nervous about how he will be received at home, and rightly so, for he has executed Thomas Doughty, an influential courtier, investor in the voyage, and formerly, his closest friend. The story is mostly told in flashback as Drake recounts the circumstances of the voyage to Queen Elizabeth I. Although it is clear how Drake interprets the events that led to Doughty's execution, the depicted scenes paint a more ambiguous tale. Conflict between Drake and Doughty grows due to an escalating pattern of Drake's increasing autocracy and paranoia, and Doughty's underhanded means to regain the authority he sees as rightly his due.

Before the fleet leaves Plymouth
Plymouth is a city and unitary authority area on the coast of Devon, England, about south-west of London. It is built between the mouths of the rivers Plym to the east and Tamar to the west, where they join Plymouth Sound...

, Drake learns that someone has betrayed the news of the voyage to William Cecil
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley , KG was an English statesman, the chief advisor of Queen Elizabeth I for most of her reign, twice Secretary of State and Lord High Treasurer from 1572...

, Lord Burghley. Drake is upset as the destination of the venture - to raid Spanish ships in Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

 and return home via a route theorized by John Dee
John Dee (mathematician)
John Dee was an English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, imperialist and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. He devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy....

 called "the Straits of Anian" - is top secret, known only to Drake, Doughty, the Queen and a few select insiders. Drake has told the crew they will be voyaging to Alexandria on a trade mission.

Tension is high when the truth is revealed. A few of Drake's crewmen are discontent at being tricked into a long, dangerous voyage; Doughty has second thoughts and tries to convince Drake to redirect the fleet to less uncertain plunder on the Spanish Main
Spanish Main
In the days of the Spanish New World Empire, the mainland of the American continent enclosing the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico was referred to as the Spanish Main. It included present-day Florida, the east shore of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Mexico, Central America and the north coast of...

. Drake is resolute, but alienates his former friend through his high-handedness. Doughty believes that his investment, his advocacy of the venture at court, and his command of the soldiers accompanying the fleet, entitle him to equal command.

The fleet encounters the Santa Maria, a Portuguese vessel. Upon its capture, Drake induces the cooperation of its captain and navigator, Nuno da Silva, who has an extensive knowledge of the coastline of Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

. Hostilities escalate when Drake reprimands one of Doughty's officers for stealing from a Portuguese prisoner.

Doughty is given command of the prize ship. Drake's ship, the Pelican, immediately falls victim to a number of misfortunes including a lack of wind and an outbreak of scurvy
Scurvy is a disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C, which is required for the synthesis of collagen in humans. The chemical name for vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is derived from the Latin name of scurvy, scorbutus, which also provides the adjective scorbutic...

. Doughty's ship is nowhere to be found. Drake becomes increasingly paranoid, attributing the misfortunes to Doughty's betrayal and his interest in the occult.

Upon the reunion of the ships, Doughty continues to agitate for what he perceives is his due: co-equal status in directing the fleet. He has a final confrontation with Drake, who strikes him and has him bound to the mast of the Pelican.

The film climaxes at the scene of Doughty's execution at San Julian
San Julián
San Julián is a municipality in the Sonsonate department of El Salvador.-See also:*Puerto San Julián...

. Drake brings Doughty to trial, accusing him of mutiny
Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject...

 and witchcraft
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...

. Encouraged by his nephew, Drake induces the ship's carpenter, Ned Bright, to perjure himself in order to assure the conviction. Drake manipulates the men into sentencing Doughty to death. The chaplain, Francis Fletcher, tries to persuade Doughty to confess his sins, but the gentleman protests his innocence until the end. He takes communion with Drake and goes resolutely to his death. Drake then makes a speech promising the men wealth beyond their wildest dreams, but the gentlemen adventurers and the mariners must settle their differences. He changes the name of the Pelican to the Golden Hind
Golden Hind
The Golden Hind was an English galleon best known for its circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580, captained by Sir Francis Drake...

, in hopes of placating Sir Christopher Hatton
Christopher Hatton
Sir Christopher Hatton was an English politician, Lord Chancellor of England and a favourite of Elizabeth I of England.-Early days:...

, Doughty's former employer.

Drake's successful exploits of plunder and subsequent return to England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 are covered almost incidentally. One disturbing scene involves the abandonment of the navigator Nuno da Silva on the shores of Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

. Drake knows that da Silva will certainly fall into the hands of the Spanish Inquisition
Spanish Inquisition
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition , commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition , was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval...

, yet is unwilling for a Portuguese national to see the Straits of Anian. The treatment of da Silva is extremely upsetting to the crew, including Drake's nephew, who formerly idolized his uncle.

Drake cannot find Anian, and so returns home the long way, by going completely around the globe. After hearing Drake's story, Elizabeth, clearly interested in the riches which Drake has won, grants him her full protection from Doughty's friends and from the Spanish king, who has demanded his execution. She cynically informs him that if he had not succeeded, he would be as good as dead for the execution of Doughty. The film ends with Drake's knighthood, a triumph that seems oddly hollow due to the strained reaction shots of some of the surviving characters including Drake's nephew and the preacher, Francis Fletcher.


According to actor Paul Darrow
Paul Darrow
Paul Darrow is an English actor best known for his portrayal of Kerr Avon in the BBC science fiction television series Blake's 7...

, Drake's Venture was Westward Television
Westward Television
Westward Television was the first ITV franchise holder for the South West of England from 29 April 1961 until 31 December 1981. After a difficult start, Westward provided a popular, distinctive and highly regarded service to its region, until public boardroom squabbles led to its franchise not...

's attempt to justify its franchise renewal. The subject matter was especially appropriate since Westward's logo was the Golden Hind
Golden Hind
The Golden Hind was an English galleon best known for its circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580, captained by Sir Francis Drake...

. The attempt failed; ironically, the news that the south-west franchise was given to TSW Television South West
Television South West
Television South West was the ITV franchise holder for the South West England region from 1 January 1982 until 31 December 1992, broadcasting from the former Westward Television studios in Plymouth, Devon.-Origins and Launch:...

 was made during a commercial break during the lone showing of Drake's Venture in Britain.

What little we know of the production is from Darrow's autobiography, You're Him, Aren't You? In it, he remarks that the filming took three months, using a full-scale authentic replica of the Golden Hind. The ocean scenes were filmed on the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

; the location shooting for San Julian was at Slapton Sands in Devon
Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

. According to Darrow, the sea was rough and Michael Irving, the actor who played Leonard Vicary, became so ill he had to be hospitalized, of necessity reducing his role in the film.


  • John Thaw
    John Thaw
    John Edward Thaw, CBE was an English actor, who appeared in a range of television, stage and cinema roles, his most popular being police and legal dramas such as Redcap, The Sweeney, Inspector Morse and Kavanagh QC.-Early life:Thaw came from a working class background, having been born in Gorton,...

     as Francis Drake
  • Charlotte Cornwall as Elizabeth I
  • Paul Darrow
    Paul Darrow
    Paul Darrow is an English actor best known for his portrayal of Kerr Avon in the BBC science fiction television series Blake's 7...

     as Thomas Doughty
  • Terence Budd as John Drake
  • Roger Adamson as Francis Fletcher
  • Paul Alexander as Ned Bright
  • Peter Cellier
    Peter Cellier
    Peter Cellier is an English actor who has appeared in film, stage and television. He is perhaps best known for his role as Sir Frank Gordon in Yes Minister and then Yes, Prime Minister in the 1980s.-Biography:...

     as Sir Christopher Hatton
  • Alan Downer as Nuno da Silva
  • Michael Irving
    Michael Irving
    Michael Irving is an actor of both stage and screen.In 1972 he was one of the founders of the Half Moon Theatre which survived until 1990.In the theatre, his recent work includes performance in the play "Apart from George" and "Rough Music" in London....

     as Leonard Vicary
  • Esmond Knight
    Esmond Knight
    Esmond Penington Knight was an English actor.He was an accomplished actor with a career spanning over half a century. For much of his career Esmond Knight was virtually blind...

     as John Dee
  • David Ryall
    David Ryall
    David Ryall is an English actor who has appeared on British television since the 1970s. He has had leading roles in Lytton's Diary and Goodnight Sweetheart, as well as memorable roles in Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective and Andrew Davies's adaptation of To Play the King and The Final Cut, the...

     as Sir Francis Walsingham
  • Michael Stroud as Admiral Winter
  • Michael Turner as Lord Burghley
  • Michael Coldle as John Brewer
  • John Curless as Pascos
  • Phillip Trewinnard as Tresillian
  • David Shaw
    David Shaw
    David or Davie Shaw is the name of:* David E. Shaw , American entrepreneur; is the founder of D. E. Shaw & Co.* David Evans Shaw, American entrepreneur; managing partner of Black Point Group; spouse of actress Glenn Close...

     as DeMachaumont
  • Alan Penn as Royal Messenger
  • Doel Lubcombe as 1st fisherman
  • Martin Bax
    Martin Bax
    Martin Bax is a British consultant paediatrician, who, in addition to his medical career, founded the Arts magazine Ambit in 1959. He lives in London and continues to practice, and edit Ambit, along with Kate Pemberton and Geoff Nicholson. Since he created it, Ambit has published poetry, prose and...

    as 2nd fisherman

External links

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